Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Champions League In Pictures: Chelsea 2 APOEL 2

Chelsea finished the Champions League group stage with a disappointing draw after allowing minnows APOEL to snatch a late goal at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea have now failed to win in three games and Carlo Ancelotti's side suffered a shock start when Marcin Zewlakow put APOEL in front in the sixth minute.

But Chelsea, who made seven changes from the side that lost to Manchester City in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday, stormed back with goals from Michael Essien and Didier Drogba putting them 2-1 ahead before the interval.

Ancelotti is clearly not afraid to bruise reputations as he rested goalkeeper Petr Cech and England midfielder Frank Lampard began the night among the substitutes.

Lampard was forced into the action moments after Drogba had put the Blues in front in the 25th minute, when their other goalscorer, Essien, collected a knee injury and had to leave the field.

Chelsea's defence has come under much scrutiny in the last week and another lapse in concentration allowed APOEL to become only the second team this season to score at Stamford Bridge.

Not since Hull's goal on the opening day of the English domestic season had an opposing side managed to trouble the score sheet.

But captain John Terry was caught napping when Constantinos Charalambides crossed for Zewlakow to fire past goalkeeper Ross Turnbull.

It was another wake-up call for Ancelotti's side who, with Group D already won, could have been forgiven for taking it easy.

But the expected response was not long in arriving. Joe Cole had a header cruelly ruled out for offside in the 11th minute but Essien restored parity seven minutes later with a thunderous shot from the edge of the penalty area.

The Ghanaian midfielder collected a pass from Florent Malouda and despatched a shot so powerful that it completely deceived Dionisios Chiotis in the APOEL goal.

But it was Essien's last contribution as he collected a knee injury moments later and was replaced.

The change had no effect on Chelsea's fluent passing game with Yury Zhirkov and Gael Kakuta, making his first start for the Blues, particularly impressive.

The pair combined superbly for Chelsea's second in the 25th minute. Kakuta delivered a precision pass inside the full-back and Zhirkov's cross was swept home by Drogba from eight yards.

Kakuta, who at 18 is now the youngest player to have started a Champions League game for the English side, then provided another slide-rule pass for Cole.

But the England midfielder hesitated sufficiently enough for the APOEL defence to deal with the danger.

Chelsea's class was all too evident as the half-time whistle approached and Lampard was unlucky to see a left-footed drive flash the wrong side of an upright.

Chelsea served up much of the same fare after the re-start. Drogba, relishing time and space in attack, was inches wide with a 25-yard free-kick in the 56th minute.

Malouda tried go one better in the 72nd minute but he was a yard wide of the target.

Chelsea replaced Kakuta with Fabio Borini moments later and the teenager received warm applause for a performance that belied his years.

It was also a further demonstration of the potential that prompted Chelsea to bring Kakuta to England from Lens two years ago.

Terry had a goal ruled out for offside with four minutes remaining and seconds later they paid a hefty price for not putting the game beyond the visitors.

Chelsea's defensive woes continued in horrific fashion when John Mikel Obi gave the ball straight to substitute Nenad Mirosavljevic.

The APOEL striker ran on to slide the ball into the net through the legs of Turnbull to clinch an unlikely point for the Cypriot side and provide Ancelotti with more food for thought.

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